Winter Rice Fields in Northern California

Winter Rice Fields in Northern California

California’s 550,000 acres of rice ground doubles as a winter habitat for millions of migratory birds and other wildlife.

Driving around the YOLO causeway yesterday at sunset, the flooded rice fields were like art.

For photographers like me, it’s an excellent time to view millions of birds taking a break from their commute along the Pacific Flyway. Rice fields flooded to enhance decomposition of stubble make excellent habitat for wildlife.


Traditionally, rice fields were burned after harvest to dispose of the left over straw and to control disease and pest problems that can carry over between crops. Unfortunately, the burning impacted the air quality of the Sacramento Valley region during burn season. The rice industry worked with the State Legislature on a program to significantly reduce rice straw burning between 1990 and 2000 to improve air quality. This agreement has reduced annual acreages burned to about 10 percent. This has left rice growers three primary ways of managing the remaining acreages of rice straw: (1) incorporation of the straw into the soil coupled with active winter flooding, (2) straw incorporation without active winter flooding, or (3) harvesting the rice straw for use in other industries.